Manning ready to face pressure in Denver

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Peyton Manning threw his first pass in a Broncos uniform Thursday at training camp.The Peyton Manning era in Denver began Thursday as the Denver Broncos opened training camp in Englewood, Colo. Fans began lining up at 4 a.m. to get into the practice, and 4,000 fans watched the workout, the most for a practice since the team moved its training camp to this site in 2003.

The Broncos made the biggest move of the offseason by signing Manning to a five-year, $96 million deal in March. What can be expected of Manning in 2012, and can he lead the Broncos to their first Super Bowl in nearly 15 years?

The Legend

Manning enters 2012 ranked in the top five in league history in completions (third), passing yards (third) and passing touchdowns (third). Nobody has more 4,000-yard passing seasons than Manning’s 11, and Manning is the only player in league history to win four AP NFL MVP Awards.

Highest Total QBR Since 2008

He can reach several milestones this season, beginning with the first touchdown pass he throws, which will make him the third player with 400 career touchdown passes.

He also needs one 300-yard passing game to break a tie with Dan Marino for the most 300-yard passing games. If Manning wins eight games as a starter in 2012, he will have the second-most regular-season wins by a starting QB behind Brett Favre.

Return to the NFL

Once regarded as the “Iron Man” of the NFL, Manning didn’t miss a start from his rookie season in 1998 to 2010, a span of 208 consecutive starts that was the second-longest by a quarterback in NFL history.

But after he missed all of 2011 with a neck injury, a key question this season is whether Manning’s arm strength will return.

Peyton Manning Passes 20+ Yds Downfield
Since 2008

Even before his injury, Manning was only mediocre on deep balls. Since 2008, he ranked in the bottom half among qualified quarterbacks in completion percentage and yards per attempt on passes of more than 20 yards downfield.

Another thing to watch this season will be how much teams blitz Manning, as his mobility likely will be even more limited this season.

Since the start of 2008, Manning has been the least-blitzed quarterback in the NFL, facing five or more rushers on just 24 percent of his drop-backs.

There is a good reason defensive coordinators did not use that high-pressure strategy often against Manning. He has the highest Total QBR (65.8) and the second-best completion percentage (64 percent) against five or more rushers since the 2008 season.

Road to the Super Bowl

If Manning, 36, can lead the Broncos to their first Super Bowl title in the post-John Elway era, it will be a nearly unprecedented event for a quarterback his age. Jim Plunkett, Johnny Unitas and Elway are the only starting quarterbacks age 36 or older to win the Super Bowl.

Manning and the Broncos will be challenged to get to the Superdome in New Orleans this February. They face the second-hardest schedule in 2012 based on opponents’ 2011 record, and four of their first five games are against teams that won at least 10 games last season.